Disclosure ‐ The review code for this game was kindly provided to us by the developers, thank you!
When I was a little lad I used to take my marbles seriously. I kept them clean, in good condition and I never once lost them. There were many games that we used to play with them, my favourite of which were the Marble Mazes. Depending on the type you had you would either build a structure and watch all the marbles fall to the bottom, or you would have a board that you twisted and angled to move a marble through a literal maze. They were the perfect combination of logic puzzle and agility challenge. Marble Mountain aims to recreate this experience for a new age.
You are a little marble who is on the quest for an ancient golden idol. Rolling your way up the mountain to the temple, you must navigate crevices, cubes and cogs to rise to the top. The story that this game tells cannot be described as deep, but it is a title more focused on its core gameplay and puzzles. The reason why you climb the mountain and the reason why you want that idol do not matter. They are an aside, an excuse for getting into the game in the first place. They are an additional motivation to keep moving forward, but fortunately for me, it was not one that I required. Getting to the golden lift at the end was enough to drive me on!
As you may have guessed, this is not a tilt or physics based affair. The marble that you are driving across the fields is fully within your control. It does have momentum, it goes faster down slopes and than up. If you fall too far or run into anything too fast you will break. Together this does create a simple, but effective and appropriate set of interactions. Creating these kinds of games is often one of compromise, and in many cases, Marble Mountain has managed to balance the various requirements that this genre requires.
As you navigate the long road the setting changes from green hills and holes to frosty mountains and crumbling monuments. The landscape and their associated puzzles are very good looking. While they may not be super detailed, I think that for the type of game they are perfectly appropriate. Lightning Rock has managed to make it so that the environment doesn’t get stale. You never find yourself longing for the end. The game also hides cosmetics throughout the levels to give players something else to search for. I do enjoy rolling around in my own little bowler.
This is a game that has also been designed with two viewports in mind. It is suitable for VR gamers and regular gamers alike. If you are playing this without VR the camera is fantastic. As you progress through the courses it will follow you and always keep your marble in frame. One slight niggle I have is that the controls appear to be linked to the camera rather than the ball direction. On the whole, this is not too noticeable, only when the camera makes large swings does it start changing the behaviour of the ball.
We must also consider that this is a VR title. For me, this is the games weakest point. Normally I am a huge fan of room scale and motion controllers as they really enhance the sense of immersion within a title. Marble Mountain does not actually need this. The lack of roomscale, the total reliance on a gamepad or keyboard does not harm the experience. This isn’t saying that benefits could not be had with further development, just that the implementation has been a quite fair compromise.
The grandest issue I do have with the VR implementation is the very same element I praise above. That is the camera. While for a regular screen, centering on the ball and chasing it around the map works, this identical implementation for VR does not. I found the camera movement extremely uncomfortable. It is fast and has irregular movement across all the horizontal, vertical and rotational axes. This forced rotational movement is the most jarring of all.
I feel as though there are other ways that VR could be better integrated into this game. At the very least I would look at moving away from a moving camera to a more static approach. I would consider letting the players pull and drag the world around them. This would significantly reduce the risk of discomfort. The world could be located within a globe, one which centres on the ball. It could be tiltable and manoeuvrable and be used to control the ball itself, much like a more traditional marble maze.
Marble Mountain advertises itself as a VR title, but I do not think that this is where the strength of the game lies. As played on a standard monitor, this short game is simple, charming and quite pretty. It is a suitable length for the type of game, you never find yourself wondering when it will all end. There are plenty of little hidden secrets to add that extra layer or replayability to each of the levels, and as such I can whole heartedly recommend it to people in the market for a simple rolling game. I would just suggest that people who are looking at it for the VR take a step back for the time being.